Tinubu’s manifesto shows little understanding of the Nigerian tech ecosystem

Ganiu Oloruntade
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President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu

In October, the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, released his manifesto tagged “Renewed Hope 2023 – Action Plan for a Better Nigeria”. Since then, the former Lagos governor — like his main challengers in the three-person race — has been touring the nook and cranny of the country to sell his “lifelong ambition” to become president.

Since we reviewed the manifesto of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, it’s only fitting that we check out the policy documents of the other two leading contenders — Bola Tinubu of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party.

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Bola Tinubu, APC presidential candidate.

Last year when a leaked manifesto allegedly from Tinubu’s camp surfaced online, we wrote that the document showed a vague plan for the tech sector.

But, in this piece, we will be looking at Tinubu’s actual manifesto. Follow me.

At first glance, the 80-page policy document portrays the APC flagbearer as someone who means business. Why? Unlike Peter Obi’s, the manifesto has a dedicated section discussing his plans for the tech ecosystem.

Read also: Though impressive, Peter Obi’s plans for the Nigerian tech space lack depth.

One million tech jobs in the first two years

In the opening paragraphs of the aforementioned section titled, “The Digital Economy: Taking Advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, Tinubu’s manifesto acknowledges the importance of digital technologies and innovations in driving economic growth and national development, adding that young Nigerians are “the leading pioneers exploring this exciting, fertile new economic frontier”.

This is correct, considering the tremendous growth of the Nigerian tech ecosystem in recent years. For context, 383 Nigerian tech startups raised over $2 billion between 2015 and 2022, according to the Nigerian Startup Ecosystem Report 2022 by Disrupt Africa.

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To this end, Tinubu says his administration will create one million new jobs in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector within its first 24 months in office: two years.

Per the manifesto, he intends to pull this off through “interventions in the ICT Industry and other critical sectors of the Nigerian economy where the deployment of new technologies can fast-track business growth and diversification.”

While these interventions were not detailed, this is a good aspiration on paper. However, anyone who follows Nigerian politics knows that the election season is marked by the culture of politicians making bogus promises to win the votes of the unsuspecting electorate.

For instance, in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari — then APC presidential flagbearer — promised to create three million jobs yearly. But, Buhari ends his second and final tenure next May, and unemployment in Nigeria currently stands at 33 per cent, according to Statista.

On ICT-enabled outsourcing

The manifesto admits that ICT-enabled outsourcing can create jobs for young Nigerians and help them tap into the booming digital global economy. It also cited how India earned $6 billion from providing ICT-enabled outsourcing services last year.

For the uninitiated, ICT-enabled outsourcing is defined as “the use of external service providers to effectively deliver IT-enabled business process, application service and infrastructure solutions for business outcomes.”

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What’s Tinubu’s plan to help Nigeria tap into the boom in the aforementioned space? “Implement policies that will train and build capacity among Nigeria’s large and youthful population to take greater advantage of the opportunities presented by this industry,” the document said.

Now, this proposition is vague. What kind of policies are we talking about here? Also, this isn’t the first time we hear a Nigerian politician promise to “build the capacity” of young people. If I had a dollar every time I came across that line, I would probably be a millionaire.

On innovation and entrepreneurship

Again, the manifesto acknowledges how the Nigerian tech ecosystem — thanks to fintech startups — has attracted significant domestic and international investment. Nigeria currently boasts the highest number of fintech startups in Africa. Little wonder that the fintech sector accounted for 73.5 per cent of the $1.09 billion raised by Nigerian startups in 2021, according to BusinessDay.

To support innovation and entrepreneurship in the tech ecosystem, Tinubu’s manifesto proposes a plan to “develop and implement innovative policies to support local funding opportunities and access to capital for startups and encourage foreign investors to continue investing in Nigeria.”

“Other drivers of value within the startup ecosystem, such as technology hubs and parks, accelerators, and angel investors will be incentivized to continue the development of a healthy ecosystem,” it added.

Isn’t this plan a repetition? Or is it a commitment to the startup bill? In October, the Nigeria Startup Bill (NSB) — touted as the long-awaited reform that the Nigerian tech ecosystem needs — was passed into law. The messiah legislation, now known as the Nigerian Startup Act, already makes provisions for the Startup Investment Seed Fund and tax incentives for startups, accelerators & incubators, among others.

Image Source: NSB.

On e-commerce and tech manufacturing

Here, the manifesto touched on the potential and growth of Nigeria’s e-commerce space in the last 5 years but also highlighted the challenges facing the space, which include “the lack of an adequate national transportation backbone and haulage systems”.

Tinubu promises that his government will “focus on infrastructure and transportation will benefit the growth and development of the e-commerce industry”.

First, providing infrastructure and transportation is the government’s responsibility, so nothing is worthy of note here. Also, the problems hindering the growth of the e-commerce space in Nigeria are certainly more than the two highlighted in the manifesto. Think of the fear of inadequate security, insufficient telecommunication facilities, low internet penetration, and payment problems.

Image source: TechCabal.

Possible solutions, as stated in this research paper, include promoting the development of necessary technologies to enhance the growth of e-commerce, applicable regulations to increase the confidence of users, and a well-thought strategy to achieve substantial
level of market penetration.

Nigeria is the 38th largest market for e-commerce, with a revenue of $7.6 billion in 2021. The sector will surely record attractive growth with appropriate government policies in the coming years. The magic figure is $75 billion by 2025, according to a Federal Government statement last year.

On tech manufacturing, no concrete plan was stated other than the massive opportunity for job creation, import substitution, and local assembly presented by the sector.

On digital government services

Digital government services are defined as service delivery within the government — and between the government and the public — using information and communication technologies. According to this United Nations report, there have been increased efforts by governments across the globe to utilize advanced electronic and mobile services for the benefit of all., though there are still challenges.

In 2019, the Federal Government launched the ‘Nigeria e-Government Master Plan 2020’ to improve the efficiency of service delivery in the Nigerian Public Service.

In line with this plan, Bola Tinubu says his government “will prioritize implementation of government digital services not only to improve the efficiency and functioning of government but to also encourage private sector job creation through the provision of development and support services to government agencies.”

In truth, if the government of Bola Tinubu indeed follows through with this proposition, it could unlock more innovation in governance and equally foster greater collaboration between the regulators and players in the tech space.

No tangible plan for broadband penetration

On broadband infrastructure, the manifesto stated that the Tinubu-led administration would ensure “the National Broadband Plan to deliver broadband services to 90 percent of the population is achieved by 2025”.

Yes, that’s all the document said. No actionable plans or strategies. Deeply uninspiring, if you ask me. More interestingly, data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) show only a 5.24% increase in broadband penetration in the two years of implementing the National Broadband Plan. So I wonder how Mr Tinubu wants to ramp up the numbers before 2025.

It’s safe to say the APC candidate (or perhaps the writers of the manifesto) doesn’t have a good grasp of Nigeria’s broadband problems.

Better regulatory environment for blockchain

The Buhari-led government — which Bola Tinubu helped install — has a complicated relationship with blockchain technology. First, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) banned cryptocurrency transactions last February. As an alternative, the CBN would go on to introduce Nigeria’s digital currency, the eNaira, whose adoption is still relatively low after one year of launch.

According to Tinubu’s manifesto, his government will “reform government policy to encourage the prudent use of blockchain technology in finance and banking, identity management, revenue collection and the use of crypto assets”. The reform will also include the establishment of an advisory committee to review the existing regulatory environment for blockchain technology, just as the CBN will be encouraged to expand the use of the eNaira.

To be fair, this is a laudable idea and much-needed to correct the impression that the Nigerian government is all out to destroy blockchain. Though, government intervention has crept into the blockchain space in recent years. For instance, in 2020, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) developed the “National Blockchain Adoption Strategy” to drive the adoption of blockchain in Nigeria. More recently, in June, the Nigeria Exchange Limited said it would begin using blockchain technology to settle trade across its platform from next year.

Final thoughts

From our analysis of Tinubu’s manifesto, it could be seen that some of his plans for the Nigerian tech ecosystem aren’t particularly convincing and shows little understanding of the space. Of course, exciting propositions were made, albeit a tad unrealistic, when viewed from the lens of implementation.

It isn’t too late for Bola Tinubu and his team to go back to the drawing board and develop better plans for tech space.

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